Episode rankings

For the sake of posterity, here are my personal rankings of all 45 ‘classic era’ Columbo episodes that aired between 1968-78.

To aid your understanding of how highly I rate episodes, I’ve banded them into A, B, C, D and Z lists. These bands equate to:

  • A list = Unbelievably good television, preferable to all other shows ever made
  • B list = Outstanding entertainment, better than almost any TV ever made
  • C list = Would happily watch anytime they came on TV, but rarely select from DVD collection
  • D list = Lesser Columbo efforts with some redeeming features
  • Z list = Will only watch under extreme duress

You can read full reviews of any of the episodes by clicking on the links below.

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Make Me a Perfect Murder
  20. Identity Crisis
  21. Swan Song
  22. The Most Crucial Game
  23. By Dawn’s Early Light
  24. Etude in Black
  25. Candidate for Crime
  26. Greenhouse Jungle
  27. Playback
  28. Blueprint for Murder
  29. Forgotten Lady
  30. Requiem for a Falling Star
  31. Fade in to Murder
  32. Ransom for a Dead Man
  33. Murder Under Glass —C-List starts here—
  34. A Case of Immunity
  35. Dead Weight
  36. The Conspirators
  37. The Most Dangerous Match
  38. Lovely but Lethal 
  39. How to Dial a Murder
  40. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  41. A Matter of Honor
  42. Mind Over Mayhem
  43. Old Fashioned Murder
  44. Dagger of the Mind
  45. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here

Once I’ve finished reviewing all of the ‘new’ Columbo episodes that aired from 1989-2003 I’ll create a master list with every episode ranked.

And don’t forget, you can vote for your very favourite Columbo episode at any time right here.

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19 thoughts on “Episode rankings

  1. I have now re-watched all of the original run of Columbo and what a brilliant viewing experience it was. As I finished each episode I read Columbophile’s excellent reviews and enjoyed reading all of the comments as well. It remains my favourite detective show of all time. I have compiled my top 10, a very difficult thing to do when I love so many episodes. So here goes…. In no particular order.

    Suitable For Framing.
    Death Lends a Hand.
    Prescription Murder.
    A Stitch in Crime.
    Negative Reaction.
    By Dawns Early Light.
    A Friend in Deed.
    Candidate For Crime.
    Any Old Port in a Storm.
    A Deadly State of Mind.

    I realise there are no Jack Cassidy episodes in my top 10 (sacrilege!) although I rate all three very highly, also just missing out are Try and Catch Me, An Exercise in Fatality, Make me a Perfect Murder, Identity Crisis, Double Exposure and Troubled Waters.

    Most underrated episodes – Dagger of the Mind and Short Fuse.

    My least favourite episodes –

    Old Fashioned Murder.
    Matter of Honour.
    A case of Immunity.
    Mind over Mayhem.

    and bottom of the list… The Last Salute to the Commodore jeez!

    Favourite season – Series 4 – Every episode a gem.

    Now I just need to work out my favourite episode and cast my vote.

    • A great list. Last Salute to the Commodore is at the bottom of everyone’s list (except Peter Falk’s) alongside Dagger of the Mind, which would be in my top 10. Variances on your list for me would be Dagger, Playback, and Troubled Waters and Murder by the Book. So much to choose from! An absolute classic television series. My wife and I watch an episode every Saturday night and just run through the series in order. We watched the new era ABC episodes, but ignore them. Not many measure up to NBC Mystery Movie era Columbo. Great list!

  2. What is the best Columbo season?

    I have watched the first 7 seasons Columbo episodes many times. I was feeling that the third season is the best season. I wanted to confirm this with the ratings of Colombophile. Colombophile gave the episodes a grade of A, B, C, D, or Z. So, I gave the ratings of 4 to A episodes and so on. And then calculated the average grade for each season excluding pilot episodes. Colombophile also rated the episodes 1 to 45. I reversed the ratings and gave the first episode 45 points and the last episode 1 point and so on. Then I also calculated the average ratings for each season.

    Here are a few observations:
    Every season has an A level episode.
    Five D level episodes are distributed among 5 seasons.
    Only Season 4 does not have a C or D level episodes.
    Rating are very close for the top three seasons.

    Grade ratings Point Ratings
    Season 4 3.33 28.3
    Season 1 3.14 26.9
    Season 3 3.13 25.6
    Season 2 2.88 21.6
    Season 6 2.67 21.0
    Season 7 2.60 19.0
    Season 5 2.17 16.2

    • What is interesting about this is that when Peter Faulk named his 4 favorite episodes 3 were from season 5. I have always thought seasons 3-5 were Columbo at it’s absolute best, with season 3 being the absolute pinnacle for myself. 10 or 11 of my favorite 15 or 20 episodes are between seasons 3-5. For me personally season 2 was the weakest season overall. The reasons for this were mostly the scoring and production design. Season 2 seemed to be a transition year between the fantastic yet uneven season 1 and the absolutely stellar season 3.

  3. I think Columbophile is mostly spot on, but I never understood his unrequited love for Suitable for Framing, Just a good episode, not a top ten. Can’t rank an episode so high just for the gotcha moment when Ross Martin is in no ways a memorable Columbo villain. I would remove this episode, plus Double Shock and Try and Catch Me outside Now you See Him and just move everything up. This is coming from someone who actually watched the episodes as they were first unveiled.

    • Sorry, upon further review I would put all three of those episodes I want moved out side the top ten after where Columbophile has Any Old Port in A Storm rated.

      • We all have favorites that most others would disagree with. “Dagger of the Mind” is a favorite of mind, and it’s been clear from many comments on here that I am in the minority on that. “Suitable for Framing” is a good episode. The finish is one of the best. Ross Martin is truly deplorable. If not a top ten, it’s certainly top 15.

      • Now you see him was excellent, although not as good as “Murder by the Book”, another Jack Cassidy episode.

        • For me, Murder by the Book, while excellent, is my least favorite Jack Cassidy episode behind Now You See Him and Publish or Perish. But, all Cassidy episodes are top 10, IMHO.

  4. Saturday Night is Columbo night at our house. We watch them in order and are watching “Lady in Waiting” now. It’s good but I don’t think it’s a top tier episode. I’d put it in with the c ranked episodes. Leslie Nielsen is particularly good in this one, I will say. And it was cool seeing Barbara Rhodes (she was in Ellery Queen and McMillan and Wife and so many other things- a true tv legend) and Marcia Wallace. A good episode, not a great one.

        • Clay Morrow… I still remember learning that Jack Cassidy had died. He was a great Columbo villain and a really talented actor. It was sad that he was so self destructive a person. Bi Polar as I understand it and untreated as well. It was sad that he was so jealous of David and Shaun and couldn’t appreciate their success.

          • Jack also very resentful of the fact that both his wife and son were bigger stars than he was. Shirley was an Oscar winner and David was bigger than sliced bread in the early 70’s.

      • Last night I watched Now You See Him for the first time (am watching all Columbia in chronology order for the first time) and as the episode finished, I pronounced it the best one!

      • You shouldn’t have. It’s easily better than Suitable for Framing (which you have an unhealthy obsession with), Double Shock and Try and Catch Me.


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